Dismissal for raising frivolous and vexatious grievances was fair

3 mins

Posted on 13 Jan 2022

Dismissal for raising frivolous and vexatious grievances was fair

Dealing with vexatious grievances

An employer dismissed an employee fairly when it dismissed him for repeatedly raising grievances which it considered to be frivolous and vexatious.

Mr Hope was employed as a senior policy adviser by the British Medical Association. He raised several grievances against senior colleagues, including about them failing to involve him in meetings which he thought he should attend. He wanted to discuss the issues with his line manager informally, but his line manager was unable to resolve them as they concerned decisions of more senior managers. He refused to raise the grievances formally but also refused to withdraw them. The BMA invited him to a formal grievance meeting but he failed to attend. The meeting went ahead in his absence and his grievances were not upheld.

The BMA considered that bringing vexatious and frivolous grievances and refusing to comply with a reasonable instruction to attend the grievance meeting amounted to gross misconduct. Following a disciplinary hearing, it dismissed him.

Mr Hope claimed unfair dismissal.  

Dismissal was fair 

The Employment Tribunal ruled that Mr Hope’s dismissal was fair. It was reasonable for the BMA to conclude that his conduct was vexatious and unreasonable and amounted to gross misconduct and the BMA had acted reasonably in dismissing him for that reason.

Mr Hope appealed, arguing that the Employment Tribunal was wrong to construe his actions as gross misconduct because they were neither a deliberate breach of contract nor gross negligence. 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed. It started by noting that conduct is a fair reason for dismissal. Conduct for these purposes does not have to be reprehensible or culpable.  When deciding whether it is fair to dismiss for misconduct, the Employment Tribunal must consider all the circumstances. In some misconduct cases, this will include whether the conduct relied on involves a deliberate breach of contract amounting to gross misconduct. But that is only necessary where the misconduct relied upon is said to breach a contractual term. In this case, the BMA did not seek to rely on any contractually stipulated act as amounting to gross misconduct.

The Employment Tribunal had been entitled to find that the dismissal was fair in all the circumstances. 

What does this mean for employers? 

Employers may be able to dismiss employees fairly if they persist in raising vexatious and unreasonable grievances. However, each case will turn on its own facts and whether a dismissal is fair will depend on whether it was reasonable to dismiss in all the circumstances. 

Generally employers do not pay employees notice or pay them in lieu of notice when dismissing them for gross misconduct. The employee will therefore bring a claim for wrongful dismissal for their notice pay as well. When considering a wrongful dismissal claim, a tribunal will need to consider whether the conduct amounts to a deliberate breach of contract or gross negligence entitling the employer to dismiss without notice and without payment in lieu.     

 Hope v British Medical Association 

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